The troubling dysfunction of San Francisco based Uber Technologies, Inc.’s corporate culture is a testimony to the workplace mantra that “culture is set from the top.” Did Uber’s management really think that a hotline for anonymously reporting illegal behaviors or the nomination of a prominent woman to its board of directors would be enough to turn its culture around and make its problems go away?
Those actions were merely reactions to a crisis and did not provide a solution for fundamentally turning things around—the bad culture had gone too far to be good again! Ultimately, the only way to affect real departure from Uber’s well-anchored dysfunctional culture was to start with changing the very top, in order to stop the hemorrhage of customers and damage to the brand, and of course to meet the company’s ultimate goal of launching a successful IPO.
According to the 13-page recommendations report from the international law firm of Covington & Burling, currently made public on uber.com:
“Uber should reformulate its written cultural values because it is vital that they reflect more inclusive and positive behaviors. To achieve this reformulation of the values, there are several steps Uber should undertake:
- work with an established and respected organization that is experienced in organizational change to restate the values with significant input from employees;
- consider further defining the values in a manner more accessible to and more easily understood by employees;
- adopt values that are more inclusive and contribute to a collaborative environment, including emphasizing teamwork and mutual respect, and incorporating diversity and inclusiveness as a key cultural value, not just as an end in itself, but as a fundamental aspect of doing good business;
- reduce the overall number of values, and eliminate those values which have been identified as redundant or as having been used to justify poor behavior, including Let Builders Build, Always Be Hustlin’, Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping, and Principled Confrontation; and encourage senior leaders to exhibit the values.”
Do Your Job Descriptions Include Soft Skills?
Human Resources should play a very important role in changing and driving the culture, not only from an accountability standpoint—being the referee to ensure that managers are actually walking the “new” talk and taking immediate action when they do not—but also from a recruiting standpoint, ensuring that the company hires employees who are going to be good fit for the new culture the organization is trying to establish and maintain.
The hiring process for any position starts with the drafting of the job posting, and the language contained within a posting can reveal a tremendous amount about a company in the eyes of potential job candidates.
I recently interviewed a candidate who told me that the reason she had applied for the position was because of the way the job description was written. When probed, she responded that the words “warm, collaborative, integrity, positive attitude, great personality” conveyed to her that our firm values not only technical abilities but also the soft skills that are indicative of the type of employees we hire and therefore the potential colleagues she might be working along with.
Companies tend to focus on describing the position and expertise needed to perform the job and often overlook the soft skills that would make a candidate ideal for the culture.
Hiring managers need to envision the type of candidates they would like to see apply for the open positions and highlight within the job description those desirable personal attributes, in addition to referencing the culture and value statement(s) on the career page of the company’s website. This is a vital way to connect with a prospect who in turn sees himself or herself as being attuned to those attributes.
For example, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which for 7 straight years ranked among the top five in Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, had a job posting for an HR Manager that listed as soft skills needed the following:
“…good judgment, professionalism, strong interpersonal skills and a collaborative style, High integrity, tact, a positive attitude,”
Another BCG posting for an Analyst position listed:
“…establishing positive and productive working relationships; able to generate trust, Ability and willingness to give and receive honest, balanced feedback. Demonstrates competence and character that inspires trust.”
LinkedIn, whose culture was very much set forth by its founder Reid Hoffman, and is reputed to truly value its employees (according to a Glassdoor 2017 employee survey), stated the following in a recent a job posting :
“Our ideal candidate is someone who can work hard, have fun, while dreaming big. Confident, self-aware team player, open to receiving/providing feedback. Possess influential and welcoming communication style.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a review of some old Uber job postings readily reveals its values of Let Builders Build, Always Be Hustlin’, Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping, and Principled Confrontation.
In a posting dated March 21, 2017, for a Sales Manager position, the first two bullet points in the “Who You Are” section read:
“You are driven, Self-driven and goal-oriented. You are resilient, mentally tough”
Other bullet points also read:
“You don’t wait for anyone to give you anything—you make it, build it, finish it. You know opportunity is disguised as hard work”
The way the ideal candidate is described reflects the egotistical personality and self- serving approach (as opposed to a collaborative one) needed in order to succeed according to Uber’s standards at the time. It is important to note that those are soft skills/personal attributes and not technical skills.
On May 16, after its debacle, Uber posted a job for a position of Global Claims Director. The “What You’ll Do” section of the position read in part as follows:
“Foster a culture that values critical thinking and problem solving, and encourage constructive feedback, engagement, inclusion and diversity at all levels.”
This indicates a bottom-up shift that one hopes will be applied throughout the organization going forward.
It is important to think about the type of people you want to recruit and not just the skills they need to possess to do the job. Describing these attributes within the job description is a powerful way to attract those candidates with the soft skills your company needs. The candidate who does not have the personal attributes suited to the company’s culture will not be good fit.
One can only hope that Uber’s new management will genuinely empower and support its HR team in the areas of hiring and accountability, so that it can recruit the right kind of employees and exit the detractors.
An employee who meshes well with the company culture will be more likely to stay longer and have a lasting positive impact on the organization—and will most likely not wind up becoming an HR problem.
As of this writing, after some additional scanning, it appears that the Uber recruiting team has yet to update all of its job postings to reflect more clearly its new values, but doing so represents a vital start toward driving change from the top as well as the bottom.
Florence Richard is a Director of Human Resources at an Asset Management firm in Sausalito, California. She has 20 years of Human Resources experience. She served as Director of Human Resources at an elite private school in San Francisco. Before that, she worked for several years in venture capital. She received her bachelor’s degree in business and languages from the Sorbonne University in Paris. Florence holds the SPHR® certification with the HR Certification Institute and is a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP®). Florence grew up in the Caribbean on the French island of Guadeloupe, and has been living in the Bay Area for 20 years.